Edward Zwick is back behind the camera in his latest reality-based movie, Defiance. Starring Daniel Craig, Live Schreiber and Jamie Bell, the film is based on the Bielski brothers and their courageous act in saving over 1,200 Jews from the Nazi’s in Belorussia from 1941-1943.
Summer of 1941 saw the Nazi’s invade Belorussia as part of Operation Barbarossa. With the Nazi forces taking command of small villages came the inevitable atrocities, Jews being rounded up and shot dead. Off in the woods witnessing the atrocities was Zus Bielski, played by Schreiber, and his younger brother Asael, played by Bell. After the Nazi’s move on the two brothers venture onto their families farm only to find their parents killed. Luckily their youngest brother Aron, played by George MacKay, was hidden under the floorboards of a closet, and managed to survive. The brothers decide to make a run for it in the woods that they grew up in, in the hopes that they could survive the occupation.
The three brothers meet up with the eldest brother Tuvia, played by Craig, and start accepting other displaced Jews into their group. Soon they find themselves forming an armed resistance and their numbers begin to swell. The more that join the group the more aggressive the brothers become in their resistance to the Nazi’s. This also put the two eldest brothers, Tuvia and Zus at tactical odds with each other. Zus wants to be more aggressive while Tuvia feels compelled to protect those that sought their protection. The prompts Zus to leave the camp and join with the Soviet Army that is operating out of the Belarus woods.
Tuvia manages to keep the refugees in relative tact throughout the harsh winter but with Spring approaching the Nazi’s ramp up efforts to oust the resistance. The entire camp sets out to relocate, although not everyone makes it. After a long and arduous journey the survivors believe themselves to be safe when they are attacked by a German patrol. Through Tuvia’s heroic actions and the arrival of Zus’ partisan forces the Germans are neutralized and the Jewish refugees able to carry on.
Written by Director Edward Zwick and Clayton Frohman, Defiance is based off the 1993 novel Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec. The adaptation briefly touches on the fact that the Bielskis were smugglers before the war, and it is this experience and familiarity with the surrounding woods that allows them to survive for so long. While there are certain elements of the story left out, and some historical inaccuracies the movie still manages to adequately touch on the fact that the brothers were simply trying to do the right thing and not be touted as saviors.
Casting wise the production team did an outstanding job. Daniel Craig’s performance as Tuvia was outstanding. Jamie Bell did an excellent job as Asael, and Liev Schreiber’s portrayal of Zus one of his strongest and best performances to date. The supporting cast was also well chose, with a number of remarkable performances put in by the various actors and actresses.
Overall, Defiance is one of Zwick’s best recent works. With a solid story and strong performances from the entire cast the movie manages to stay on focus the great majority of the time with only a few instances of Hollywood cliches occurring. Thankfully they’re short and don’t bog down the story. Defiance is powerful and moving film, one that should be viewed by everyone.